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368 posts
  • Family-friendly
  • S.F. Bay Area
(Los Angeles Times)

Why: Though technology has overtaken them, there is something romantic and reassuring about lighthouses. About 20 still dot the California coast. One of the most fetching is Pigeon Point's, a 115-foot tower that includes a hostel, on a thumb of land halfway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.

What: Pigeon Point Light Station has been protecting ships since the 1870s. Though mostly for show in an era of satellite-guided navigation, it provides back-up beacons on dishwater-dark days and murky nights along this stretch of skyscraper seas and rocky coastline.

Hostel rooms to the right.
Hostel rooms to the right. (Los Angeles Times)

The hostel here makes it a terrific weekend escape that could include whale-watching or exploring and hiking along Highway 1. Accommodations include separate-sex or coed bunkrooms and private rooms for individuals, couples or families.

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  • Family-friendly
  • Central Coast
(Chuck Trudeau / For The Times)

Why: You want history? There used to be a caged monkey behind the bar. But forget history. Concentrate on that insanely large slab of beef they just snow-shoveled off the grill and rushed to your table at the famed Jocko’s, in no-frills Nipomo, Calif.  

What: Jocko’s is a Central Coast institution with cinderblock walls and local ranch brands burned into the paneling. Yep, this is farm country all right, a little dusty and proudly working class.

“Come in an monkey ’round,” the sign outside says, a nod to its former mascot.

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  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Elisa Parhad)

Why: The Bob Baker Marionette Theater is an icon of family entertainment in Los Angeles, beloved for its charming retro performances. As the longest-running puppet theater of its kind in the U.S., the venue has stood the test of time.  

What: Founded by Bob Baker and Alton Wood in 1963, the theater is housed in an unassuming building on the edge of downtown L.A. Not much has changed in the last 50 years. Coffee-can stage lights illuminate handmade puppets that dance and sing to a vintage soundtrack on a carpeted stage. Catch a seasonal production — “Halloween Spooktacular" is playing through Nov. 5 — to witness the company's unique brand of whimsy, complete with vampire lovebirds, dancing skeletons and a glow-in-the-dark alien takeover. After the show, join the cast in the adjoining salon for complimentary ice cream.

Baker served as a puppeteer and animator for hundreds of Hollywood movies and TV productions. He also made puppets for clients around the globe and was a rare mentor in a fading profession.

  • Family-friendly
  • S.F. Bay Area
Rhubarb-strawberry pie
Rhubarb-strawberry pie (Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Admit it. Sometimes you don’t want to be around other people. All you crave is a country road and an epic piece of pie. For all that, come to Duarte’s Tavern in tiny Pescadero, near Half Moon Bay, for a simple yet memorable dinner and a frosty drink. Make this rustic jewel your hamlet, your hideout, your Walden Pond.

What: Duarte’s (pronounced Doo-arts) has been serving up generous plates of no-nonsense, straight-from-the-garden food for almost 125 years. Since 1894, when the founder tapped a keg of cheap whisky to today, when it serves up to 10,000 customers a month, this farm country landmark has delivered memorable meals at affordable prices.

(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

The glow-stick exterior dominates the little town of Pescadero, in rolling, sparsely populated farm country two miles from the coast. Inside, you’ll realize that the Duarte family was ahead of their time, with a reliance on locally sourced vegetables, beef and fish.

By night.
By night. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Why: It's sleek. It's vintage. And if you're arriving via the San Gorgonio Pass like most Angelenos, it's the beginning of Palm Springs.

What: When architects Albert Frey and  Robson Chambers designed this building in 1965, the streamlined mid-century look was so big that even gas stations were doing it. Indeed, the Tramway Gas Station sat under this great tilting zooming top for decades, until (like a lot of Palm Springs) the building fell into idleness and blight in the 1970s and 1980s.

Then a few mavens of Desert Modernism effected a rescue — a story repeated on properties all over the Coachella Valley over the last 25 years. Now this hyperbolic paraboloid roof (apparently that's the technical term) looks sharp enough to poke a hole in the Jolly Green Giant, and this corner is site of the Palm Springs Visitors Center. It's a fine spot to stop, collect brochures, learn more about Modernism Week, cadge restaurant recommendations and plot details of your weekend.

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Battery Point Lighthouse in 1996.
Battery Point Lighthouse in 1996. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Why: No matter which way you travel, California begins and ends with a Cape Cod-style lighthouse from the 1850s. One is the Old Point Loma Lighthouse in San Diego. The other, about 900 miles to the north, is the Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City. And because the building stands 200 feet offshore on a tiny island, you can only get there at low tide.

What: The Battery Point Lighthouse (now also a museum) turned its light on in 1856, two years after California's first lighthouse opened at Alcatraz. It was automated in 1953 and survived the 1964 tsunami that devastated Crescent City. It's now managed by the Del Norte County Historical Society.

When the tide is low (consult the web or call [707] 464-3089 to check), you can walk to the lighthouse across the sand, rocks and a cement driveway. The building is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily from April through September, weekends only the rest of the year. Inside, don't miss the banjo-shaped clock. "It's still working and it's original," said volunteer lighthouse keeper Harvey Lee. "We have to wind it once a week."

  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
(Robbin Goddard / Los Angeles Times)

Why: This is the world's wealthiest art institution, with a 110-acre campus overlooking the Pacific and a $6.3-billion endowment. Because it's young as museums go, it doesn't have the world's greatest collection yet. But every year the curators spend tens of millions more, adding European paintings, sculptures, photographs and other marvels to this hilltop haven of shiny white buildings. 

What: The Getty Center, backed by billions from late oil man J. Paul Getty, was born as a museum in 1954, but didn't move to this location until 1997. Once you've parked or been dropped off, take the monorail up the hill and head for the West Pavilion, which houses photography below and Impressionists above.

Many visitors head straight for the center's Impressionist standout, Van Gogh's "Irises," and you should get there eventually. But don't miss newer works — especially the vast Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA project (which explores Latin American and Latino art with local connections, through January 2018) and the David Hockney show (up through Nov. 26, 2017). The photography holdings are remarkable too.

(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Some buildings have gravitas. This one has that, plus magic. Maybe it's the filigree of the ironwork, the skylight over the five-story atrium, the terra cotta walls. Maybe it's the supposed occult influences on the designer.

Or maybe it's that movie. For several fraught moments in the first "Blade Runner" film (1982), Harrison Ford ducks and scuttles through this building as spotlights rake the atrium. In an enduring cinematic vision of L.A. as dystopia, this was some of the spookiest stuff.

What: The Bradbury Building, completed in 1893 and dramatically restored about 100 years later, seems to be the oldest remaining commercial building in downtown L.A. The Bradbury rents out office space (several private investigators are tenants), and film shoots and other events have been frequent through the years. Last December, the Da Camera Society brought in the Boston Camerata for two chamber music performances.

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  • Family-friendly
  • L.A. County
The "Enchanted" light show, a holiday season hit at Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge last year, returns this year fro a run from Nov. 19-Jan. 7.

Why: If the light has faded from your holidays, Descanso Gardens' Enchanted: Forest of Light, an emerging annual tradition, may flip the switch back on.

What: In the evenings from Nov. 19-Jan. 7, you can take a mile-long stroll through the gardens in La Cañada-Flintridge, where different kinds of lighting bring a new dimension to the 160-acre grounds.

The event debuted in 2016. It’s easy to call Enchanted a holiday light display, but that’s not quite right. There are no symbols of the season, no elves, no jolly St. Nicks. It’s more the suggestion of the ethereal that charms.

(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Why: Frank Lloyd Wright, the cantankerous genius architect best known for his buildings in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Tokyo and beyond, did some interesting things in California, too. This hilltop home -- officially, the Aline Barnsdall Hollyhock House -- is one of them. And unlike many Wright homes, it's open for tours.

What: The house, Wright's first Los Angeles commission, was completed in 1921 for an artsy oil heiress named Aline Barnsdall. Wright called the style "California Romanza," but it looks a lot like a Mayan mansion with a prime view of the Hollywood Hills and Griffith Park. Inspect that view closely, and you'll notice, 1.4 miles due north, the patterned concrete blocks of another Wright project, the Ennis House, now privately owned.

In any event, Wright's client didn't care for it much. In 1927 she donated 11 acres, including the home and some neighboring structures, to the City of Los Angeles. Today the compound serves as Barnsdall Art Park, busy with classes for youths and adults (and Friday-night wine-tasting in summer months). Hollyhock House, reopened in 2015 after years of fundraising and restoration, is neighbored by an art gallery, studio and theater space, the slopes planted with olive trees. The home's former garage now serves a visitor center and gift shop.